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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S. Diplomatic Convoy Hit by Explosion in Gaza

Aired October 15, 2003 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news right now. A U.S. diplomatic convoy is hit by an explosion in Gaza.
It is Wednesday, October 15.

From the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Carol Costello.

Thanks for waking up early with us this morning.

Straight to that breaking news, though, out of the Middle East.

Palestinian sources say an explosion hit a U.S. diplomatic convoy in northern Gaza just within the last hour. These are pictures we're just getting in. Israel Radio is reporting four dead. Some or all may be Americans.

Information still sketchy. Don't know if the blast was caused by a car bomb or a roadside bomb. U.S. Embassy officials in Tel Aviv say they know about the explosion and they're looking at the details right now. And in just a few minutes, we're going to take you back live to Jerusalem for more.

But first, international editor David Clinch joins us to sort this all out.

We initially heard that four Americans were dead.

Now we're not so sure?

DAVID CLINCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: Right. Not so sure. Israel Radio getting reports from Gaza that there are four dead. In fact, there are clearly, from some of the pictures which we're not showing you, are at least two, possibly four, bodies there. The initial report was that everybody in the convoy was American. So it was assumed all four are American dead. We don't know that for sure.

We are being told now that everybody who was in that convoy who was American was from the -- attached to the U.S. Embassy and most likely CIA. We were initially told by, again, by Israeli sources, that the U.S. envoy, John Wolf, might be there. We now know for sure that he was not only not there, but that he is not in the country.

It, therefore, we are told again by the embassy, is most likely one of these regular trips into Palestinian territories by U.S. officials attached to the U.S. Embassy there, involved as interlocutors in speaking to the Palestinians, all levels of the Palestinian Authority. That's about all we know right now.

The key point, one of the key point here is this, at this point, we do not know was this a deliberate and specific Palestinian militant attack against a visible, obvious diplomatic convoy, let alone a U.S. convoy.

COSTELLO: I wanted to ask you about that convoy. The trucks were clearly marked, it seems from looking at them.

CLINCH: They were clearly marked. What we don't know and what will distinguish this as a specific attack was whether there were human attackers there or whether it was a roadside bomb. Even if it was a roadside bomb, we then need to know whether it was specifically targeting the convoy. But the fact, if we can establish a fact, that there were Palestinian militants actually there carrying out the attack, then makes it beyond doubt that it was a specific attack against this convoy.

COSTELLO: How many cars were, or trucks, were in the convoy? Do we know that?

CLINCH: We're not sure. We do not know. A number of vehicles were in the convoy. The one that was destroyed was definitely a diplomatic vehicle, a jeep, it was described as, carrying Americans. That was more or less completely destroyed. Others were damaged. I'm not sure how many in total were there.

Again, to stress, these kind of convoys, they don't happen every day, but they're certainly a regular occurrence into Gaza, into the West Bank, with U.S. officials. There are obviously other diplomatic convoys that go all the time to and fro. It's not impossible that this convoy was not particularly targeted, that it's accidental. So we do not know that it was targeted yet.

COSTELLO: Is...

CLINCH: But if it was, that then becomes a whole new factor in this.

COSTELLO: Well, it becomes a very big deal, because I cannot remember a time when Americans were targeted in the Palestinian territories.

CLINCH: They certainly -- again, to specify, Americans such as CIA or intelligence officials, go in and out of these areas and there are things we don't know. They certainly have been involved in situations where attacks have happened.

But to be specifically targeted, I don't remember an incident in which Americans have been specifically targeted.

Again...

COSTELLO: And the other thing, the timing of this may be interesting, or may not be, with that U.N. resolution that America vetoed that would have done away with that fence between the Palestinian territories and Israel.

CLINCH: Right. Right. It's certainly clear that the militants, the Palestinian militants are angry with the United States. But in my view, vetoing a resolution over a fence going through the West Bank is not a factor in them suddenly targeting Americans. On the other hand, I...

COSTELLO: Well, who knows, though?

CLINCH: No, I think -- well, my point is that they're angry enough at the Americans. The militants are angry enough at the Americans. The thing that has always prevented Palestinian militant groups attacking the United States is that it goes beyond undermining the Palestinian Authority. It goes beyond putting the pmts in a bad light. It makes them the enemy. And that's why they have never done it in the past, or rarely done it in the past in those territories. I'm not talking about before with pmts attacking American targets, but in the territories themselves.

Again, we don't know that they were particularly targeted. If we find that out, it brings this story to a whole other level. We're going to...

COSTELLO: Well, let's go live to Jerusalem to see...

CLINCH: We're going to get down to Gaza.

Chris Burns is in Jerusalem right now.

COSTELLO: All right, Chris Burns, are you there?

What else have you found out for us about this attack?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hello, Carol.

Well, we are getting some details trickling in. Still, so far, U.S. officials are saying they are aware of an explosion and that they are looking into it. But according to official sources that we're talking to here on the ground, they say that they have seen three bodies on the ground where there was a U.S., some kind of a U.S. convoy traveling in northern Gaza. A roadside bomb went off, completely demolished the first car in the convoy. And that appears to be where the casualties occurred.

It is, there are indications -- official sources are saying that these were bodyguards, these were private security people, and that the U.S. diplomats were in other vehicles. So that is the detail that is coming in. So three bodies seen, at least one injured.

Israel Radio, however, is reporting that four Americans were killed. So we do have some conflicting reports there. But at least we have official sources saying they have seen three bodies on the ground.

It is no great surprise that there are U.S. officials of any kind in the territories. They do make forays in there to talk to Palestinian officials. But it does -- what is not clear is exactly who would have set off that bomb and there are, up to now, no claims of responsibility -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Chris, we're seeing what appears to be military people milling about there, looking at the accident scene or the incident scene. I'm not -- I shouldn't have said it was an accident, because it certainly was not. Who would conduct the investigation?

BURNS: Well, that's a good question. The Palestinian Authority, their security forces are obviously there on the ground trying to coordinate the situation. They will be involved in transferring the bodies over across the Israeli border to the Americans.

A very good question as to whether the Americans will be involved, allowed to be involved in such an investigation. But, again, the U.S. officials, even as it's widely known that the CIA people have been working with the security forces in trying to bring the militants under control, trying to make the security forces more effective in doing so and trying to bring this chaos of weapons, as the new Palestinian prime minister has been calling it, under control. And this was seen as yet another example of this chaos of weapons -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Has anyone claimed responsibility for this?

BURNS: Still no claim of responsibility, but of course there are lots of different militant groups that are extremely angry against the Americans, as well as the Israelis. Just keep in mind, even yesterday the U.S. vetoing that resolution in the security -- the U.N. Security Council -- that would have condemned the Israeli, what they call -- the Israelis call the security barrier and what the Palestinians call the Berlin Wall being built inside the West Bank between Israeli -- between Jewish settlements and the rest of the Palestinian territories.

A lot of inflamed tensions and anger against Americans because of the U.S. policy in demanding that any kind of a U.N. resolution not only criticize Israel, but also the suicide bombings inside Israel -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Chris Burns, we're going to let you go to gather more information for us.

Many thanks.

Chris Burns live from Jerusalem this morning.

BURNS: Thank you.

COSTELLO: And Chris touched on another controversial topic. The Palestinians call it a land grab. Israel calls it protection from terrorists. And now the Security Council has weighed in on the wall.

Our senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth has more for you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Palestinians and the Syrians knew of the potential United States veto looming, but they pressed on into the night after a day of speeches, with most nations criticizing Israel's planned extension of its security wall into mostly Palestinian territory.

Finally, the Syrians insisted on a vote, and it happened. Ten in favor, but one key veto, the United States, a permanent member with that power.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte raising his hand. The second U.S. veto in a matter of weeks. The last time it was on the status of Yasser Arafat.

Four countries abstained, including Britain and Germany.

The U.S. again said it was another unbalanced resolution.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: The resolution put forward today was unbalanced and did not condemn terrorism in explicit terms. This resolution failed to address both sides of the larger security context of the Middle East, including the devastating suicide attacks that Israelis and have had to endure over the past three years.

ROTH: Israel insists that the wall is necessary to keep terrorists out, while the Palestinians said it was a simple land grab by Israel. Envoys from the two parties dueled inside the Security Council chamber following the United States veto.

NASSER AL-KIDWA, PALESTINIAN OBSERVER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): What happened today in this august council is very regrettable. The inability of the Council to take a firm stand in this matter of strategic importance, that is the expansionist separation wall, is very alarming.

DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: The Security Council has proved today yet again that it is not a rubber stamp for the incessant and hypocritical Palestinian and Syrian whims. The Palestinian observer has spent a lot of time blaming others today. He has blamed Israel. He has blamed the Council. And he has blamed a permanent member of this Council that has done more to support the cause of peace than any other state.

AL-KIDWA: It's just on a personal note that I want to put on the record that I am, indeed, disgusted at the low level of the interventions made by the Israeli representative, including the last one.

ROTH: The last time the U.S. vetoed, the Palestinians went next door to the General Assembly to get a resolution in favor of their position on Yasser Arafat. But it didn't have any legal weight compared to the Security Council. This time, the Palestinians say they have some new ideas and will again huddle.

Richard Roth, CNN, the United Nations. (END VIDEOTAPE)

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